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  • Writer's pictureFrank Oles

Union Pacific Big Boy #4014

The Big Boy is coming to town! The Oles Family has always been huge fans of model railroading and trains. When we heard there was a chance to see an actual Big Boy Locomotive as it traveled through Chicago, we made sure we would not miss a chance to see this piece of history in person and up close. We caught up with the train as it stopped at the Union Pacific Training Center in West Chicago on July 27, 2019. There has a huge crowd of train enthusiasts who were equally eager to see this train in real life.

Union Pacific Railroad ordered 25 Big Boy locomotives, the first of which was delivered in 1941, as was this unit, number 4014. From the plaque, we can see it was constructed by American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, NY in November of 1941. This train was retired in 1961 after having traveled 1,031,205 miles. These trains were created to transport huge loads between Ogden, Utah and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Often, several of these locomotives would be used linked together in a formation called a consist.

It's strange, but one of the first impressions of seeing this engine up close was, "huh, I thought it'd be bigger." Both Clay and I felt the same way. Granted, it was large, but not THAT much bigger than some of the larger modern diesel trains. Maybe it seemed so much bigger in our imaginations all those years on our O-Scale model railroad layout. To put things in perspective, this loco was 132 feet long and weighed over 1.2 million pounds. Not exactly "little"!

The Big Boy has a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement, which means it has 4 pilot wheels, a set of 8 drivers, ANOTHER set of 8 drivers and an additional 4 wheels to support the cab at the rear of the engine. Because this locomotive is SO long, the frame is hinged to allow it to go around corners. Unlike airplanes, ships and other craft, trains are limited by the size of the railroad tracks. In the time of this locomotive, building a more powerful engine meant building a bigger steam engine, and the Big Boy was the absolute limit of how big things could get and still be manageable on the rails. If you needed more power, you simply linked multiple locomotives together.

While we were hanging out near the engine getting some detailed shots, we noticed this fella hanging out underneath the wheels performing some service on the engine. And you think your job is hard! As you can see, maintenance on these ancient beasts of the rails was hard, dirty work. It is truly remarkable that Union Pacific keeps this locomotive in service.

Here you can see the iconic "Big Boy" writing that was scrawled on the front of the boiler that gave this iconic train its memorable name. It's amazing to think of these huge iron beasts out there traversing huge swaths of the wilderness, carrying mile-long loads of coal and other resources day and night.

A quick photo op with Clay and Grandpa Stan. There are seven Big Boy locomotives on display at Railroad Museums across the country, but 4014 is the only one that is currently in service. It returned to the rails in May of 2019 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad's completion. For any train fan in the Chicago area, this was a must attend event and one that we will remember forever.

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